Two things motivate change in human beings: fear and desire. After the crisis of betrayal, fear is what initially motivates and drives the process of change. However, to achieve long-term transformation, a person’s motivation must eventually shift from fear to desire.
Over the past two weeks, we have talked about both avoiding and allowing the moment of truth in your relationship with your cheating partner. As you may recall, the moment of truth is when you stop monitoring and regularly reminding your partner of how he has hurt you. Instead, you step back and see what happens. You see if he steps up and continues to invest in his recovery and healing the relationship. Or not. When this moment is allowed to happen, it typically marks a significant transition in the recovery process for both you and your partner.
In the beginning, your cheating partner’s recovery is usually driven by fear—mostly fear of losing the relationship. He enters recovery not because he wants to change his behavior and make amends, but because he does not want to lose his relationship with you. Going to therapy, attending group and 12-step meetings, doing homework, making phone calls to supportive peers and mentors, and changing long-ingrained habits are all motivated, at least initially, by fear of losing the relationship.
You, as the betrayed partner, are also motivated by fear—fear that you will be hurt again, fear that if you don’t stay on top of the cheater he will do it again, fear that he won’t be willing to do what is necessary to heal your relationship. So, the crisis of betrayal trauma creates massive fear for you and your partner alike, as your relationship is brought to the brink of destruction. This fear pushes both of you to work toward change.
However, there is a moment in the recovery journey when you as the betrayed partner need to step back and allow your cheating partner’s energy, rather than your pain and his fear of losing the relationship, to become the primary motivating force. This moment is as important for your cheating partner as it is for you and your relationship. This is the moment when he must move beyond the pain and fear-driven paradigm of early recovery and find within himself a different impetus for change and healing.
This means your partner must connect with what he wants for himself long-term. What does he want his relationship to look like? What will a healthy sex life look like? What does he want for his children? What does he want for his friendships? What is his value system? What does it mean for him to live a congruent life where his values and his behaviors are in alignment? Who does he want to be?
Connecting to these deep desires about relationships, meaning, purpose, and legacy is a key task in your partner’s recovery process. Often, infidelity and addiction hijack a cheater’s life, pushing him off course and diverting his energy and attention away from what he truly believes in and values. Rediscovering and connecting to his truest, deepest desires and beliefs about what gives life meaning and purpose transforms his motivation for recovery, shifting him away from pain and fear and connecting him to his true longings and desires for the future.
Fear-based motivation takes an enormous toll on the goodwill in the relationship, as it requires both the cheater and the betrayed partner to stay in constant connection with the pain, fear, and damage that infidelity has brought. Couples who are unable to move out of the pain/fear phase of recovery and into the longing/desire phase often find themselves stuck in a toxic relational cycle. This can only be sustained for so long. Thus, the transition from fear-based motivation to desire-based motivation is vital to long-term recovery and healing.
For your cheating partner to make the transition from fear-based to desire-based motivation, he must quit looking to you as the primary driver of his recovery. He must quit using your pain as the energy behind the changes he is making. He must find his own reasons for changing. He must connect to his own desires, his own vision for life and relationship, and his own longing for things to be different. These must become the primary motivators that energize him and sustain him for the long-term.
If you haven’t risked the moment of truth yet, consider having a discussion with your cheating partner about the need for the two of you, as a couple, to make this transition. Take this topic into couple’s therapy and get assistance with it there. And know that making this transition is not a one-time deal. You will loop back into the fear at times, but you will come out of it quicker and find your footing faster if you and your partner are focused on the long-term vision of what you long for and want for yourselves and your relationship.
This post was originally published in April of 2018 and updated in February of 2021.
About the Author:
Michelle Mays, LPC, CSAT-S is the Founder of PartnerHope.com and the Center for Relational Recovery, an outpatient treatment center located in Northern Virginia. She has helped hundreds of betrayed partners and sexually addicted clients transform their lives and relationships. Michelle is the author of The Aftermath of Betrayal and When It All Breaks Bad and leads the field in identifying and crafting effective treatment strategies for betrayed partners.
Braving Hope is a ground-breaking coaching intensive for betrayed partners around the world. Working with Michelle will help you to move out of the devastation of betrayal, relieve your trauma symptoms and reclaim your life.